The Czech mezzo Dagmar Pecková has a fine voice, a dark mezzo which at
times sounds like that of a contralto, yet is also strong at the top when it
needs to be. The Slovak Philharmonic plays very impressively, and conductor
Aleksandr Marković displays a sure-footed musical intelligence and a strong
sense of the dramatic. The 'concept' of the album is an interesting one and
much of the material sung and played is of a high order. The recorded sound
is very good and yet . the whole is slightly unsatisfying, mildly
At first I couldn't work out why this was so but after several hearings I
have identified the fly in the ointment. If Pecková has a
weakness, relatively speaking, as a singer it lies in her handling of text.
Given that in a programme such as this a singer doesn't have the narrative
structure of a whole opera within which to develop his or her character and
is unsupported by the theatrical imagination of a director, characterisation
and emotional plausibility depend on creative attention to the
of the words sung.
For my tastes, Pecková doesn't vary the weight or tone of her voice
sufficiently in response to her texts, and there is, as a result, a certain
undifferentiated quality. Thus, for example, she doesn't successfully make
the repentance of Mary Magdalen ('O mes soeurs') sound very strikingly
different from the persuasive temptations of Hérodias ('Ne me refuse pas').
Nor is the inner struggle of Cherubini's Medea ('Del fiero duol che il cor
mi frange') altogether convincing, and her Klytämnestra, in dialogue with
Elektra ('Ich habe keine gute Nächte') does not ring entirely true in
emotional or psychological (one might say poetic
) terms. I haven't
seen Ms. Pecková's full operatic CV, but I do wonder how many of these roles
she has actually sung, on the stage or in the concert hall, since what is
lacking is the kind of understanding and confidence of interpretation that
comes from having 'lived' a role in its entirety, so that the performance of
even a single aria comes out of, and benefits from, a context of wider
experience and understanding.
an interview which forms part of Supraphon's publicity for
, Dagmar Pecková explains that she came to this project as a
result of some sessions she had with psychiatrist William Didden, at a time
when she was "stressed out", "in a seemingly hopeless situation . when [she]
wanted to abandon singing". Her meetings with Didden, she says, "purged
[her] soul" and "explained to [her] how to believe in [herself] and God".
Much of the power of Pecková's transformative experience shines through in
these performances, but perhaps, as I have suggested, at the cost of
distinctive characterisations of the women whose stories she recreates, in
part, in this recording.
The documentation in the CD booklet begins with a note from Professor
Didden, about Sinfulness - which includes statements such as the following:
"The only remedy against human sin and wrong-doing is forgiveness. And as a
psychiatrist I can say with certainty that forgiveness is the essential
remedy that can restore diseased human souls and relationships. By means of
this recording, we would like to present this powerful theme to the general
public". I am not convinced that of the music presented on the CD any, with
the exception of Massenet's 'O mes soeurs', actually has much to say about
forgiveness, of the self or of others. Nor am I convinced that opera is ever
best served by being made to serve the cause of moral and/or psychological
didacticism, even if all great operas, like all great drama, do indeed raise
moral and psychological issues.
In effect the concept on which the album is predicated - a concept which,
with a more precise focus and with attention to differences as well as
similarities could have been extremely rewarding - has been allowed to
distract attention from more purely musical requirements. And while music is
most assuredly pre-eminent as a language of the spirit, it is surely not
primarily, or even very effectively, a medium for moral guidance.
I wish I could be more wholehearted in my welcome for this CD. There is,
indeed, much that I admire about it, not least the quality of Dagmar
Pecková's voice and of the orchestral playing and direction. I am also
grateful to the album for introducing me to an opera which I have never seen
or heard, Antoine Mariotte's Salomé
; on the admittedly limited
evidence of just one track here, this sounds like a work deserving of
So, I have mixed feelings, of which the dominant one is perhaps
frustration - frustration that such evidently talented performers haven't
made an interesting idea work.